Barrie mayoral debate focuses on downtown
By BOB BRUTON Barrie Examiner October 14 2010
Posted 1 hour ago
Job No. 1 for Barrie’s next mayor could be the downtown.
Wednesday evening’s all-mayoral-candidates debate at Fendley Hall couldn’t avoid the topic, as seven candidates weighed in on the troubles plaguing the city’s core.
Harry Ahmed, Dave Aspden, the current mayor, Rob Hamilton, Jeff Lehman, Mike Ramsay, Darren Roskam and Joe Tascona talked about improving safety and increasing development there before more than 200 people, with standing room only.
The question was what’s the larger problem in downtown Barrie — the bars, drunken behaviour and resulting violence? Or the lack of development there — the vacant properties, empty stores, etc.? And how would the candidates solve these problems, without further taxing homeowners, since all the candidates seem to favour keeping taxes low?
“We do not feel safe going downtown,” said Ahmed, a newcomer to city elections. “This city is still being run by an old-boys club. People are tired of recycled politicians. Change is needed in Barrie now.”
Hamilton, Barrie’s mayor from 2003-2006, said the current council has missed its chance to continue the downtown’s development.
“For the last four years, there has been no leadership,” he said. “Good businesses have moved out, bars have moved in. There has not been any investment attracted to the downtown.
“Three of the (mayoral) candidates sit on this council. The two councillors (Ramsay and Lehman) and the mayor (Aspden) have allowed the downtown to go backwards. Barrie means business needs to mean something again.”
But Ramsay pointed out that Hamilton owns two downtown bars — The Queen’s Hotel and The Roxx Nightclub — so he might have a slanted view.
“When you were mayor, on your watch, that’s when things started to slide,” Ramsay said. “It’s cause and effect. There are too many bars downtown. I blame the province of Ontario (which grants liquor licences).
“Even the CBC did a story on violence in downtown Barrie. That’s not the way to attract tourists.”
“Minimum separation distances (between bars), this is the control we have over them,” Lehman said. “The investment won’t happen until people feel safe down there.”
Aspden said there need to be security cameras downtown and it must be more friendly to seniors, such as placing benches there again. He said an officer on every street corner isn’t the answer.
“Policing costs right now for the downtown are overwhelming,” he said.
Roskam said lower taxes would mean people would have more money to spend downtown, which would mean more stores and less trouble.
“But I am not going to feel safer in the downtown with more police officers,” he said.
Lehman said it’s also important to attract more people to live downtown, so they can support the stores, shops and restaurants.
But Ramsay said that’s already happening.
“We have never had so many people living in the downtown,” he said.
Tascona said the city needs to be able to attract more private investment to the downtown.
“It shouldn’t be on the taxpayer,” he said. “I don’t agree with waiving the development charges (for developers). If we waive development charges, the city will be the loser.”
He said downtown bar owners need to hire more off-duty police officers to improve safety there, since it is their patrons causing the problems after they leave these establishments.
There are too many bar owners in the downtown who are not responsible,” Tascona said. “We have to clean up the downtown so that people will want to live there.”
He said this election is about leadership and experience.
“Are you better off than you were four years ago? I think not,” Tascona said. “I have more experience than any other candidate, which is valuable in negotiating with the federal and provincial governments.”
Ramsay took offence to the inference.
“I’ve been on the front lines, not in the back benches,” he said, referring to Tascona’s time as Barrie-area MPP.
Hamilton said he has a proven track record as mayor and that he can do it again.
“We need a game-changer,” he said.
Lehman once again indicated he was tired of the personal attacks in this election campaign, and wanted to focus on the issues.
“We need a plan to move this city forward,” he said. “Have they (the other candidates) told you what you are for, or just what they are against?
“Being mayor is about leading council and setting the strategic priorities of the city.”
The candidates also talked about how to attract the elusive hotel/convention centre to Barrie, again in the downtown, the waterfront, tourism, taxes, a large performing arts centre, another downtown project, Barrie Central Collegiate’s fate and attracting more family doctors.
Carl Hauck was absent from Wednesday’s debate.
The two-hour event was sponsored by the Greater Barrie Chamber of Commerce, in co-operation with The Barrie Examiner and Rogers Television.